VARs and SIs: The Arms and Legs of Unified Communications
The UC market continues to grow rapidly. Microsoft and IBM are reporting tens of millions of licenses shipped for Microsoft's OCS and IBM's Sametime, while Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel, Shoretel and Siemens are all shipping impressive UC solutions.
The UC market continues to grow rapidly. Microsoft and IBM are reporting tens of millions of licenses shipped for Microsoft's OCS and IBM's Sametime, while Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel, Shoretel and Siemens are all shipping impressive UC solutions.That growth, however, doesn't mean that everything's rosy. Customers face considerable challenges as they move to deploy this new technology in a way that is practical and affordable, and which produces beneficial results.
To help them through those challenges, enterprises are increasingly turning to Value-Added Resellers (VARs) and Systems Integrators (SIs). While the product vendors are obviously important, when an enterprise seeks to achieve the applications and results that UC promises, their progress often is largely dependent on the level of UC awareness and skill levels of the VAR or SI that is involved.
The best UC VARs/SIs have invested in the future on behalf of their enterprise customers and prospects and, of course, themselves. They've expanded their skills base and product lines; traditional telecom VARs/SIs are becoming partners of Microsoft or IBM, while IT-focused VARs/Sis are signing up to carry IP Telephony product lines. There is a growing cadre of experts who know how to deliver an effective communications assessment--what are the communications issues and opportunities--before they even begin to work on a network assessment or a bill of materials.
We saw about a dozen of these leading VARs/SIs at VoiceCon Orlando this past March, and I expect to see even more at VoiceCon San Francisco 2008 this November. Dimension Data announced its Unified Communications Deployment Model, which "helps organizations assess their competence and capabilities in the area of unified communications and develop a roadmap for UC implementation." INX, Spanlink, Accenture, Touchbase, CRI, SPS, Enabling Technologies, CommuniTech, and others have also been developing their UC practices to focus on the applications and business improvement opportunities, far beyond the basics of VOIP.
The bottom line is that your choice of VARs and SIs will be among the most important decisions you make as you proceed with UC. My advice is to get them involved as early as possible so you can tap their expertise as you develop your requirements, plans or RFPs. Some of attributes to consider as you make your selection are:
VARs and SIs usually sell specific brands of software and/or hardware, so there are still plenty of reasons to hire independent consultants to provide expertise, perspective, checks and balances, and negotiating leverage. Yet, I expect that my independent consulting peers will give you similar advice--the value you get from your UC investment will depend as much, if not more, on the quality of the VAR or SI that you hire as on the product brand being implemented.
What do you think? If you've had experiences--positive or not so much--with UC VARs and SIs, please drop me a note at MParker@UniCommConsulting.com